THE UNWILLING

A dishonorably discharged Marine returns home, throwing his family into chaos.

A family melodrama at first appears to be the center of Hart’s latest, a diffuse tale that lacks the drive of his other works. Jason French has just returned to Charleston, South Carolina. After a dishonorable discharge from the Marines, Jason spiraled into drug abuse and landed in prison. Now freed, his presence roils a wounded family. His twin brother, Robert, was killed in Vietnam. Family patriarch William and his wife, Gabrielle (a woefully undeveloped character), determine to keep Jason away from his impressionable younger brother, Gibby, a high school senior. Gibby looks up to Jason, eventually believing his dishonorable discharge was undeserved. Gibby’s coming-of-age tale might have focused the story, but it vies with a long lineup of characters, events, and themes trailing through the plot. Family drama morphs into horror story when a convict among a busload of inmates from a state prison farm spots Jason and informs Prisoner X (so named because his real name is Axel, or possibly because he killed 10 men). Worth millions and brutally powerful, X terrorizes prison staff and powerful outsiders into doing his bidding. X shared prison time with Jason and now, for reasons gradually parsed out, wants the ex-Marine back at the prison, so he manipulates his minions to murder a woman Jason knows and frame him for the killing. Fleeing arrest, Jason is captured and sent back to prison. Gibby thereupon determines to clear his brother of murder and learn what was behind Jason’s discharge from the Marines (alas, not a very startling reveal). Now the narrative turns into a more traditional police procedural. The case windup adds some much-needed juice to an otherwise slow-moving, colorless narrative, which ends with a chilling kicker.

Less would be a lot more.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-16772-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

THE SABOTEURS

Malign forces want to slow completion of the Panama Canal, but Isaac Bell has plenty to say about that in his 12th tale of derring-do.

In 1914, the U.S. is digging an enormous ditch across the mosquito-infested isthmus of Panama, with “mechanical dragons wreathed in steam” ripping out eight tons at a time in the Culebra Cut. Horrific incidents happen, and they’re not always accidents. A mysterious terrorist group called Viboras Rojas, or Red Vipers, seems responsible for an explosion that kills dozens and delays the canal’s construction. Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency is sent there to investigate, and a team of wild horses wouldn’t keep his wife, Marion, from coming along. Bell keeps mighty busy. Within days, he’s “thwarted an assassination attempt and brought a mad bomber to heel,” and he’s just getting started. The detective is exceptionally observant and ingenious. How he survives a catastrophic landslide is such a combination of quick thinking and luck that readers will hold their breath as they turn the pages, only realizing later how unlikely it all is. Meanwhile, Germany conspires with Argentina to severely delay the canal’s opening—Argentina would lose plenty of oceangoing commerce, and as it girds for war in Europe, Germany fears America’s rise as a global power. The proximate villain is Otto Dreissen, who correctly believes that former President Teddy Roosevelt won’t be able to resist traveling to see “the most transformative engineering feat in history…dangers be damned”—and there is danger, since the kaiser has authorized Roosevelt's assassination. But first Dreissen must arrange an “accident” for Bell, the “man with the nine lives of a cat.” Poor Otto. He should know it’s not that easy to kill off a series hero. Nor a series hero’s wife, even when she’s dangling from a dirigible. A bonus tip to readers: Stay away from manchineel trees and superheated steam.

Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19122-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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